Greater Greater Washington

DDOT helps "complete" Florida Avenue

A section of Florida Avenue NW will soon better provide for all its users, including drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians. The street will get wider sidewalks, street trees, and bike lanes after residents and DDOT collaborated to redesign it.


Photo by the author.

This section of Florida Avenue has enjoyed significant population growth over the past decade. New condo towers went up on both sides of the street and more are on the way.

The street's wide, auto-oriented roadway may have been appropriate for the area's previous use a warehouse district. Today, however, most of the industrial uses are gone and old shops and parking lots are turning into mixed-use residential and commercial buildings.

The project area encompasses 9th Street NW from U Street to Florida Avenue, and Florida Avenue NW to just past Sherman Avenue. The project also includes the southern­most block of Sherman Avenue and the northernmost block of Vermont Avenue.


Project area. Click for an interactive map.

More crosswalks and better sidewalks

Increasing the share of trips taken by means other than an automobile is an important goal for the District and especially for the U Street area, which is already at its car-carrying capacity. Making walking safer and more enjoyable is a good way to encourage people to shift from driving to walking for more of their trips.

The agency's designs call for widening the sidewalks and installing a planting strip buffer between the sidewalk and the roadway. Separating pedestrians from high-speed traffic with a row of parked cars or a planting strip improves pedestrian comfort. Few people want to walk within 2 feet of speeding traffic.

Crossing Florida Avenue today is a daunting task. The road's width encourages speeding and provides no median refuge for pedestrians. The new design resolves this problem with a median, a few bulb-outs, a narrowed roadway, striped crosswalks, and a new traffic light.

One of the more notable changes is that DDOT intends to turn the intersection of 9th Street, V Street, and Florida Avenue into a signalized intersection. Regular concertgoers know this intersection as the location of the 9:30 Club. The intersection's current form requires concertgoers to cross a wide section of Florida Avenue while hoping that motorists will stop for them at the crosswalks. The new signal will provide more order to this process.


Intersection of Florida Avenue, V Street, and 9th Street NW.

DDOT plans to reconfigure the intersection of Florida Avenue and Vermont Avenue to slow traffic turning from southbound Florida Avenue to Vermont Avenue. Currently, the intersection is designed like a highway ramp for southbound traffic. The new design will force motorists to make a sharper right turn, which will cause them to slow down. This reduces the chance that a pedestrian will suffer severe injury or death if struck while crossing the street.


Intersection of Florida Avenue and Vermont Avenue NW.

New bike lanes, bike boxes, and sharrows

The new street will receive bike lanes in some stretches and sharrows in others. DDOT will also implement some of its new bike practices here. The agency will place bike boxes on Florida Avenue at Vermont Avenue to aid turning and merging movements. A new southbound bike lane on Vermont Avenue will connect the Florida Avenue bike lanes with the V Street lane, which stretches to the foot of Adams Morgan 10 blocks west.

The District is now starting to paint green bike lanes to help differentiate the lanes from regular street lanes. The agency will apply the same treatment to assist cyclists who wish to continue on Florida Avenue beyond Sherman Avenue.


Intersection of Florida Avenue and Sherman Avenue NW.

More trees, less impervious pavement

The proposal calls for adding 57 street trees, one of the most notable visual and environmental changes. At the first community meeting a year ago, DDOT planner Gabriela Vega noted that her agency was under a mandate to increase the District's tree canopy.

Trees reduce the urban heat island effect, raise property values, and reduce stormwater flow into the sewers. Converting some of the asphalt pavement into grassy planting strips and medians will help the soil absorb rainwater and reduce the pressure on the combined sewer system.

Reducing stormwater volume is especially important in light of recent storms that caused minor flooding in one of the condo buildings on Florida Avenue. This section of Florida Avenue drains to the Northeast Boundary Tunnel, the massive century-old combined sewer that has backed up and caused flooding several times this summer in the LeDroit Park and Bloomingdale neighborhoods.

In their conversations with DDOT, residents suggested adding a median with street trees and planting strips along the curbs. In response, DDOT plans to widen the sidewalks, many of which are too narrow for wheelchairs today, and add planting strips to both sides of the street. A tree-studded median will stretch from Vermont Avenue to W Street.


Proposed median and street trees along Florida Avenue from Vermont Avenue to W Street NW.

Missed opportunities

Though DDOT added nearly all of the ANC's requested improvements, the agency was unable to add two important features. First, the ANC requested striped crosswalks for the intersection of Florida Avenue and W Street to aid people crossing Florida Avenue.

Richard Kenney of DDOT explained that the two lanes of southbound traffic make a crosswalk at W Street difficult. If a motorist in one lane stops for a pedestrian in the crosswalk, it would be too likely for a motorist in the second lane to continue moving.

Though a traffic signal at W Street could bring all traffic to a stop, DDOT's engineers worried that traffic would back up along Florida Avenue and block the intersection at Sherman Avenue.

The ANC also requested the addition of a striped crosswalk across Florida Avenue on the south side of the intersection with Sherman Avenue. The agency rejected this request, fearing that the left-turning traffic volumes from Sherman Avenue would be too high and cause drivers to block the intersection while waiting for pedestrians to cross.

Vega, DDOT's planner, was sympathetic to the ANC's desire to add every pedestrian accommodation possible, but said that the design process is a negotiation to balance numerous interests.

Even without these ANC-suggested changes, the project will widen sidewalks, add street trees, reduce the size of intersection corners, add bike lanes and bike boxes, remove curb cuts, and add a new traffic signal. It will create a street that is vastly better for residents on foot and on bikes.

Policy matters in the creation of complete streets

The ANC was instrumental in adding these complete street elements to the design. I volunteer as chair of the ANC's Transportation Committee and was happy to see residents, including a road engineer, mark up the original designs to add complete street elements I had not even considered.

The elected commissioners passed the list of requests and DDOT incorporated the vast majority of the requests into its design. The ANC did not get everything it wanted, but it got the majority.

Adding street trees and improving the quality of the walking experience are explicit District policy objectives that both Mayors Fenty and Gray have embraced. Though skeptics may dismiss these policy statements as electioneering, these official guidelines are critical in advocating improvements in new public projects. They provide political force for planners and citizens as they advocate for complete streets.

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Eric Fidler has lived in DC and suburban Maryland his entire life. He likes long walks along the Potomac and considers the L'Enfant Plan an elegant work of art. He also blogs at Left for LeDroit, LeDroit Park's (only) blog of record. 

Comments

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Awesome news for you guys in that area!

The good news about the missed opportunities is that, in the near future, they can be addressed as even more "pedestrian upgrades." Once these changes stick, it will be easier to push for more.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Sep 24, 2012 12:48 pm • linkreport

This is a nice success story. Should spruce up the area and make it safer.

by Gavin on Sep 24, 2012 12:53 pm • linkreport

Yes, thanks DDOT and thanks Eric for writing about it here.

by MrTinDC on Sep 24, 2012 1:23 pm • linkreport

This is great, but I wouldn't describe the Florida Ave south to Vermont Ave south roadway as a " the intersection is designed like a highway ramp for southbound traffic."

https://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&ll=38.918485,-77.024473&spn=0.001655,0.003484&t=m&z=19&layer=c&cbll=38.918661,-77.024558&panoid=_4qBdhol-CXTX8l2YV3_dQ&cbp=12,181.51,,0,3.12

I wasn't aware ramps were flat 45 degree turns off of 25 mph streets.

The intersection needs improvement, but the hyperbole is a bit much.

by Nick on Sep 24, 2012 1:39 pm • linkreport

So when will construction actually start?

by mikem on Sep 24, 2012 1:49 pm • linkreport

Nick, drivers treat the intersection as a highway on-ramp at times. Forget the 25 mph. I live at this intersection and see people regularly coming off Sherman, accelerating down Florida to the interesection with Vermont and speeding down Vermont to catch the light at U St. This is similar to the problem that 15th St had with people speeding up the road in order to catch the lights just right. I'm thrilled the intersection is being fixed. I just wonder how hard it's going to be to get onto 9th north of V with a tour bus parked outside the 930 Club.

by Chuck on Sep 24, 2012 2:12 pm • linkreport

FINALLY! this is great, almost got killed a few times at that intersection on my bike, or with my daughter in the stroller (no, seeing a stroller does NOT slow down those people who want to make that light at Vermont and U). This area is great but lacked a little bit of pedestrian friendliness and trees, etc. This should fix it, or at least it's a great start! WHEN DO THEY START WORKING?

by GdM on Sep 24, 2012 2:27 pm • linkreport

This is good news. But in the missed opportunity category: why doesn't the project extend another block north along Florida to connect with the 11th street bike lanes?

by Dan on Sep 24, 2012 2:28 pm • linkreport

How sad is it that the fear of a traffic backup trumps the basic ability of people to cross the street (at W & at Sherman). We've made some progress, but we have a LONG way to go.

by Jacob on Sep 24, 2012 2:31 pm • linkreport

Will this streetscape project coordinate with the potential future extension of W Street east of Florida Avenue where JBG is teasing a Harris Teeter if they can acquire the adjacent DC owned property? Crosswalks at Florida and W will be a necessity if it becomes a 4-way intersection with an anchor grocery store in a couple years. Hopefully it will be possible to add crosswalks in later if JBG is successful with their development plans.

http://leftforledroit.com/2012/09/we-may-be-in-store-for-another-grocery-store/

http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/capitalbusiness/trader-joes-on-the-way-to-u-street-area-and-harris-teeter-could-follow/2012/09/07/31ae4880-f795-11e1-8398-0327ab83ab91_story.html

by Jim Malone on Sep 24, 2012 4:27 pm • linkreport

Jim,

I was told that future extensions of Bryant Street and W Street will necessitate future changes along the Florida Avenue if those extensions ever come to fruition. Occasionally District agencies ask developers to pay for these improvements as a condition for receiving approval for their projects.

mikem,

If I recall correctly, construction is supposed to start next year after the bidding process has concluded.

by Eric Fidler on Sep 24, 2012 4:38 pm • linkreport

I keep forgetting that this is the real Florida Avenue. I think of U Street between 18th and 9th Sts. NW as "Florida Avenue".

by Frank IBC on Sep 24, 2012 4:50 pm • linkreport

Bummer. DDOT succumbs to the handful of neighbors and cuts off everyone above with new stoplight and increase wasted time and sharper turns. I bought north of here because Sherman was a secret fast lane to U and points south. Now with the Sherman two lanes, this barrier, and the clot that is 14th and Columbia, I've gone from 35mph average to 20 on a good day. Now Sherman is as slow as the crawl called Georgia. Thats not progress.

by Dismayed on Sep 24, 2012 7:37 pm • linkreport

Dismayed, try living by the 9/V/Vermont intersection and turn the corner to your garage or walk across the street. I'm sorry that your 1 or 2 mile commute takes an extra 5 minutes, but I'd rather not get hit crossing the street in front of my home thank you.

by Chuck on Sep 24, 2012 10:51 pm • linkreport

Why is U Street not Florida Ave in the first place or why was Florida Ave not straight in the first place. What is with the many many disconnected streets throughout DC

by kk on Sep 24, 2012 11:24 pm • linkreport

U Street fits in with the L'Enfant grid. Florida Ave used to be Boundary St. Everything north of it was the county, south was Washington city.

by Chuck on Sep 25, 2012 8:30 am • linkreport

To add to what Chuck wrote, Florida (nee Boundary) follows the edge of the lowland area. North of Florida the "Florida Escarpment" begins. Which is why from Florida Avenue, north is always uphill. Florida Ave is weird because it's based on geological features. The reason this was considered the edge of the city is that going up and down this hill was difficult for horse-drawn vehicles. It took the streetcar to open this area to large-scale habitation. The same is true EOTR, where only the Old Town Anacostia (aka Union Town) was settled early.

by David C on Sep 25, 2012 9:00 am • linkreport

@kk: if you look at the L'Enfant plan, you'll see that Florida (Boundary) flows more naturally the full length around than it does today. It wasn't until later that the city decided to neuter the top most portion and have it funnel onto U Street at 18th and at 9th (originally Florida met U Street at 8th). You'll also see that Florida between 16th and 15th/New Hampshire is actually W Street...the Florida portion got consumed by Meridian Park and for whatever reason (continuity?) they changed the name of W to Florida for that portion.

by 7r3y3r on Sep 25, 2012 9:53 am • linkreport

Living closer to, and having survived the 18 St NW project, I can say the results were well worth the wait and the hassles and noise from the construction. It will get worse, then it will be permanently better if not great.

by PC on Sep 25, 2012 2:12 pm • linkreport

@David C -Thanks for that info!

by Tina on Sep 25, 2012 2:22 pm • linkreport

@Chuck: You moved in knowing full well you lived on a major north-south artery and now you wanna clog it for the benefit of a few and a dis-service to many.

So sorry you worry about your garage, its not like FL Ave was a surprise addition, but to me and everyone else trying to get past your house, this new change is frustrating - be we on a bus, car, or bike. And I take all three.

by Dismayed on Sep 25, 2012 11:13 pm • linkreport

Dismayed, it can really be frustrating right now. It hasn't been implemented. There may be fear that it will be frustrating, but being frustrated about it now is like being frustrated by the Romney administration.

by David C on Sep 25, 2012 11:49 pm • linkreport

@David C: unlike Romeny, DDOT redesign is a given. They will redo this intersection. I am frustrated by their direction, which seems to be primarily driven by the direct neighbors. This is a fuedlistic approach. If followed to its extremes, every block has a speed bump and stop sign. Every road designed so Chuck can walk across without worry. And the city would grind to a hault.

The bottom line is that we do need high capacity roads. People need to get from point a to point b in a realitively quick manner. Sherman/Florida is a high capacity road, taking pressure off Georgia, which is arguably at capacity now. This redesign will create a bottleneck, reducing efficiency and increasing road rage.

by Dismayed on Sep 29, 2012 5:24 am • linkreport

This redesign will create a bottleneck, reducing efficiency and increasing road rage.

I disagree. And in my previous comment, the first "can" should be "can't".

by David C on Sep 29, 2012 11:54 pm • linkreport

Are there any updates from DDOT about these plans? Seems like with all of the development in the area, plans for better pedestrian safety would be a priority.

by Jay G on Apr 28, 2014 4:15 pm • linkreport

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